There was a time when the music made and played in Woodstock was what people came for. In the 60s 70s 80s and into the early 90s Bearsville Studios and Utopia were epicenters of some of the most influential music in rock & roll history. Leaving a legacy possibly wider reaching than even the festival of its namesake, Albert Grossman (Bearsville Studios) had big musical visions for Woodstock, some that were manifest even after his death in 1986. But if it weren’t for those turning the knobs and sitting at the helm in the control rooms of the establishments, those visions might not have ever come to fruition.
One of those people was Aaron Baron, who first rolled into town in a remote recording truck — Location Recorders — to record Stage Fright by The Band at the Woodstock Playhouse, which was released in 1970. At that point the truck had recorded live artists like Ike & Tina Turner, The Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East, B.B.King Live in Cook County Jail, and many a King Biscuit Flower Hour to name a few. Aaron was innovative and he and his mobile recording studio caught the eye of Albert Grossman, who purchased the truck and the business. Aaron moved with his family to Woodstock and continued working out of it for a few years while Albert’s crew learned the nuances of the studio.
About 40 years after his father’s arrival in the remote recording truck, engineer, composer, producer, and champion of the musical arts, David Baron is making himself known in Woodstock — and his timing is impeccable. You may not have known he was here before he sat poised at the keyboards, accompanying Simi Sernaker in her show at the Kleinert/James Gallery early this spring, after a little under a week together in the studio. “Simi was about to go out on the road opening for another artist, it only made sense that she left something for Europe to remember her by.” It was very good advice. His graciousness allowed her to set out confident and armed with a five song recording. They are currently working on an album together; he is assisting her in writing some of the songs and encouraging more from her than she might ask of herself.
“Working with Simi has taught me a lot. Her process has been about not only being a woman but it is also about race and other factors that are very unique. I am learning a lot about what was like for her growing up here in Woodstock — it certainly had its good bits and its hard bits.”
David spent most of the 1970s living here and going to Woodstock Elementary School. The difficulties of raising his deaf sister in an area with few resources for the hearing impaired afforded David the opportunity in his formative years to ride along in his father’s truck, co-piloting many a recording session. It was the 70’s and so the journeys brought him to some wild and different places — joining the parties with the innocent and awestruck nature of the child he was. He may have recalled enough of the shenanigans he saw to keep himself out of trouble as he grew — he has managed to hold on to many of those innocent and loving qualities.
“It was a different time, I met the whole cast of characters of that era, which is very different from the cast of characters of this era. Parenting was different then so I hung out with whoever was around (they were usually smoking grass) while my father was in session. I enjoy being back and seeing some of those who I met as a child.”
Eventually his family was called away from Woodstock in 1979. In need of better opportunities for his sister, his family moved to New Jersey. “I was happy in Woodstock. New Jersey was quite a culture shock, but it was not only better for my sister — my father was able to commute to New York City for work.”
David studied classical piano and engaged in statewide competitions and recitals as any good classical pianist does on his or her way to becoming a songwriter, composer and wizard in the studio. He learned much of what he knows from his father, choosing to follow in his footsteps, and went on to study composition and technology in music at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. After that, he owned and operated a couple of recording studios in Manhattan, one with Lenny Kravitz. The two still work together.
Working in an industry whose face has changed tremendously in the last decade he has a fresh and optimistic outlook on what might appear, to some, to be a desolate situation. “There has been a tremendous amount of sexualization in pop music — it’s over the top. It’s gotten to the point of ‘Sex as Value.’ It is hard — once you get into the big machine the pressure is on, but I think we can do better than that. Thankfully, I’ve seen a change in the charts lately. There are several songs that have renewed my feeling that music is moving away from that disco-glam-porn thing that’s been happening.”
Woodstock’s legendary music scene has also gone through some serious changes, and that same fresh perspective could benefit us greatly. Since losing two of our most well attended music venues, the Joyous Lake and Tinker Street Cafe (as it was last known), coupled with Bearsville Studios closing its doors in the early turn of this century, we have had little to boast for a musical scene. Until Levon Helm started his “Midnight Rambles” it seemed that Woodstock might become a sleepy suburb of New York City with very little to offer but shopping and second homes.
David’s has not only held on to his love of Woodstock, but he has returned with gifts similar to those with which his father first arrived. He might just stir things up around here. “I really wanted to become part of this community again — part of the musical community. And I felt that it would be fantastic if there were more producers here and Woodstock were more of a hot bed of productivity — getting things done, getting things out there, getting things heard. More so than an insular community which just feeds on itself. There may always be a bit of that, but things are changing again.”
David moved back to the area as New York City became more and more expensive and less a launching pad for musicians in general. The choice to land in Woodstock made the most sense for him, his wife Jinhi and their son Oskar who is almost four years old. They first returned as second home owners, and now live here full time. He is committed to reviving some of that energy that brought him back, and was surprised to find that much of it has waned considerably since he last lived here.